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Self-Development Knowledge Base

critical thinking

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The objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement.

Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. 

In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.

Everyone thinks; it is our nature to do so. But much of our thinking, left to itself, is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed or down-right prejudiced. 

Because the quality of our life and that of what we produce, make, or build depends precisely on the quality of our thought, shoddy thinking is costly, both in money and in quality of life. 

Excellence in thought, however, must be systematically cultivated.

A well cultivated critical thinker

  1. raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely;
  2. gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards;
  3. thinks openmindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and
  4. communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.

Critical thinking is incorporated in a family of interwoven modes of thinking

Among these;

  • scientific thinking, 
  • mathematical thinking, 
  • historical thinking, 
  • anthropological thinking, 
  • economic thinking, 
  • moral thinking, 
  • and philosophical thinking

Critical thinking can be seen as having two components: 

  1. a set of information and belief generating and processing skills, and 
  2. the habit, based on intellectual commitment, of using those skills to guide behavior. 

It is thus to be contrasted with: 

  1. the mere acquisition and retention of information alone, because it involves a particular way in which information is sought and treated; 
  2. the mere possession of a set of skills, because it involves the continual use of them; and 
  3. the mere use of those skills ("as an exercise") without acceptance of their results.

Applied critical thinking

According to Edward Glaser, in a seminal study on critical thinking and education critical thinking involves three things: 

  1. an attitude of being disposed to consider in a thoughtful way the problems and subjects that come within the range of one's experiences, 
  2. knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning, and 
  3. some skill in applying those methods. 

Critical thinking calls for a persistent effort to examine any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the evidence that supports it and the further conclusions to which it tends. 

It also generally requires;

  • the ability to recognize problems, 
  • to find workable means for meeting those problems, 
  • to gather and marshal pertinent information, 
  • to recognize unstated assumptions and values, 
  • to comprehend and use language with accuracy, clarity, and discrimination, 
  • to interpret data, 
  • to appraise evidence and evaluate arguments, 
  • to recognize the existence (or non-existence) of logical relationships between propositions, 
  • to draw warranted conclusions and generalizations, 
  • to put to test the conclusions and generalizations at which one arrives, 
  • to reconstruct one's patterns of beliefs on the basis of wider experience, and 
  • to render accurate judgments about specific things and qualities in everyday life.

( Edward M. Glaser, An Experiment in the Development of Critical Thinking, Teacher’s College, Columbia University, 1941 )

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